November 22, 2023

With New Coach Dubuque Bringing Energy, PU Wrestling Finishes 3rd at Navy Classic

STOUT DEFENSE: Princeton University wrestler Luke Stout, right, battles a foe in a bout last winter. Last Saturday, junior Stout placed first in the 197-pound weight class at the Navy Classic in Owings Mills, Md. Stout’s heroics helped Princeton finish third in the team standings at the event, which was won by Nebraska. The Tigers, who are being guided by new head coach Joe Dubuque, are next in action when they host Indiana on December 3 at Jadwin Gym in their first dual of the season. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Joe Dubuque was thrust into a whirlwind when he took the helm of the Princeton University wrestling program in mid-September.

With head coach Chris Ayes unexpectedly leaving Princeton to guide the Stanford program, longtime assistant Dubuque was promoted to guide the Tigers.

“The time was a little hectic when I got the job, three days later we had our largest recruiting visit so that was a little stressful,” said Dubuque, speaking recently at the program’s media day. “It was doing some new things that I wasn’t in charge of before while also doing the things I was in charge of prior. The first two weeks were stressful. Now I feel like I have my legs under me.”

While Dubuque wasn’t about to reinvent the wheel having assisted Ayres for a decade, he is making some changes.

“I addressed the team as head coach and told them there is going to be a lot of continuity between myself and Chris so there are going to be a lot of things that are going to stay the same,” said Dubuque, whose staff includes longtime Tiger assistant Sean Gray and recently graduated Tiger star Quincy Monday. “We are just going to tweak some things, I think the biggest thing that I emphasized was energy. We needed new energy — it was almost kind of like we had a lull last season. Every practice, every competition, every match, we want to be energized and carry that brand into our competition.”

Last season, Princeton was energized through a landmark achievement by Pat Glory as he won the NCAA title at 125 pounds in his final campaign, giving the Tigers their second-ever national crown.

“It is inspiration; to quote Chris Ayres, it is proof of concept,” said Dubuque of Glory’s championship run. “That was the last piece of the puzzle that we needed to convey to recruits. It is, ‘Hey, you can come to the No. 1 school in the country and still have realistic dreams of being a national champion, because we have done it.’ There are things that out there that we still have to do from an athlete standpoint and a team standpoint, which excites me.”

Dubuque and his staff are welcoming in a stellar group of recruits this fall.

“From a ranking standpoint and a talent standpoint, it is probably the best class we have brought in but that doesn’t mean anything when you get here,” said Dubuque. “That is great, that is a good starting point, but what I think has impressed the veterans on the team is the willingness of the freshmen to jump right in and to be leaders in action.”

A focus on action will be emphasized this season as Dubuque has chosen “Let’s Get Wild” as the theme for 2023-24.

“It is close to my personality, one of the things if you have ever seen me in the corner, I go a little crazy, a little wild,” said Dubuque. “It is also releasing any pressure or expectation that these guys feel. I have told them the only expectations that matter are the expectations of us within the team. We just have to stick together and stick to what our vision is and what our competitive philosophies are. If we stick to that and stick to our brand, we are going to be successful and we are going to hit all
of the things that we want to do as a program.”

Last Saturday at the Navy Classic in Owings Mills, Md., the Tigers did a lot of good things as they finished third in the team standings of the event won by Big 10 power Nebraska. Junior Luke Stout led the way for Princeton, placing first at 197 pounds.

The Tigers boasted a number of other place-winners at the event as junior Mikey Squires (174), sophomore Aidan Conner (197), and senior star Nate Dugan (184) each placed third in their weight classes while freshman Eligh Rivera (149) took fourth and freshman Tyler Vazquez (141), senior Sean Pierson (133), freshman Drew Heethuis (125), and senior Matt Cover (285) all earned fifth-place finishes.

Dubuque saw the tourney as a key early season litmus test. “The great thing about Navy Classic is that they are going to keep team score so it will give our guys an opportunity to have that tournament setting,” said Dubuque, whose squad totaled 134.5 points in taking third with Nebraska posting a winning total of 212 and Navy taking second at 137. “Bonus points are going to matter, wins are mattering. Winning things individually is going to help us try and win as a team. It is going to be really good for our freshmen that are in the lineup at that tournament. I know there are quite a few Big 10 teams that are going to be there, teams that we normally wouldn’t see during the year so that is going to be a great test.”

Junior star Stout, for his part, has seen a good vibe in the room as Dubuque has taken charge and new faces have joined the program.

“The energy in the room has been off the charts, we lost a lot of big seniors who led the way for us,” said Stout. “The turnover gives room for guys like me and [Nate] Dugan to lead the way and bring these freshman along and be one team.”

Stout’s performance at the Navy Classic, which saw him go 5-0 and top No. 6 Silas Allred of Nebraska 4-1 in the final, exemplified the mindset he brought into the season.

“The emphasis for me is more like the mental side of it, just approaching matches with the same tenacity, going out there ready to compete to the fullest of my capability every time,” said Stout a native of Mt. Lebanon, Pa. “It is sticking to the brand, just going out there every time, ready to wrestle, ready to scrap and leaving that other guy not wanting to wrestle one more minute.”

Stout is determined to make the most of every minute this winter.

“Coming back again and being on campus, back in the room in the E level of Jadwin, it has just been nice to get back into the room, remembering why I am doing this sport and what I want to do with it which is to get to the top of the podium at the end of March,” said Stout. “I am grateful for everyone who has gotten me here and the new coaching. It has been a great to recognize how grateful you really are and how much opportunity there is this year.”

Dubuque will be experiencing a memorable opportunity when Princeton hosts Indiana on December 3 at Jadwin Gym in its first dual of the season.

“It is special for me to wrestle my alma mater in my first dual meet as a head coach,” said Dubuque, a two-time NCAA champion at Indiana during his college career.

“Across the way is Angel Escobedo, the head coach there, who was somebody who was on the team with me. He was a freshman when I was a fifth year senior. He was a training partner for me and I was also able to coach him when he as a senior at Indiana. A lot of special things are coming together for that dual meet. We are also going to be celebrating Pat Glory’s championship. It is going to be an awesome day for Princeton wrestling and a special one for me.”